Author Archives: Shell Fischer

About Shell Fischer

I'm an editor/writer and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor who has been studying mindfulness for the past 20 years. I'm currently enrolled in the two-year Meditation Teachers Training Institute in D.C., studying with Tara Brach, Jonathan Foust, Pat Coffey and Hugh Byrne. I also write about mindfulness for national magazines, and edit books about mindfulness for others.

DO NO HARM/TAKE NO SH*T: A Buddhist Lesson on Boundaries

I just recently arrived back home from a 5-day meditation retreat I was leading in Romney, WV, and I need to admit that I love our new retreat center, Peterkin, so much that I’m already really missing it. 

It was a truly wonderful retreat, and I honestly just wanted to stay for a little while longer!

During our last day there, I offered a longer q&a session, and one thread of inquiry that seemed to keep coming up was this:

When we perceive that some sort of harm is being done – either by another person, people, or even on a more national or even global level – how can we best confront this without nurturing aversion in our own hearts, or letting it consume us in some way?

Along with this was the question: how can we avoid taking on our aversion as a kind of identity – maybe as an angry or mean person, for example – when we experience that need within us to take a stand, or to say “no”, or maybe, “that’s enough.” 

And, how can we use our mindfulness practice to best discern when (and when not) to take a stand about something?

So, for this month’s talk, Do No Harm/Take No Sh*t: A Buddhist Lesson on Boundaries” I thought I’d expand on my answers a bit, and explore what the Buddha taught us about how we can use our meditation practice to help us to say “no” or “stop” without doing further harm to either ourselves or others, or allowing our aversion to shut down our hearts. 

It includes a brief meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, a few important heads up!:

1) We’re so happy to be heading back to the beautiful, peaceful Bon Secours Retreat Center in MD July 6-10 for a 5-day retreat on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, one of my favorite topics! FYI: This retreat is about 3/4 full and has been filling quickly, but there is still time to join us!

2) The June 8 meditation retreat is full, but there is still an online option available, and still room in the next retreat, “True to Your Heart” on Aug. 17!

In the meantime, I’m sending many kind wishes, and my hopes to see you soon! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

What Would Buddha Do? Taking Refuge In The Beloved

Just recently, one of my new managers and I were having a follow-up talk about a retreat she just helped me with, and the question that naturally arose was: 

“How do we flow back and forth between occupying our role as either teacher, or safe space holder, and then back again into a sense of self that is more defined as ‘me.’?”

I really loved her question, because the answer truly applies to all of us.

It involves asking ourselves: “How can I flow between all the different roles, hats, or identities that I place on myself every day … and that kind, wise, compassionate presence within me that is actually ‘free’ of all of those often limiting identities, or beliefs about who I think I ‘should’ be?”

And if we think about it, this is really exactly what our practice is urging us to do: to start to identifying more and more with that part of us that is experiencing the whole of our life from a place of wisdom, compassion, and openness, rather than from some sense of identity, or from some label we’ve stamped on ourselves as “someone,” or “something” – which as we know is never really the same, or even accurate.

So, for this month’s talk, “What Would Buddha Do? Taking Refuge in the Beloved,” I thought I’d expand on my answer a bit, and dive into an exploration of how we might use our meditation practice to loosen our strong grip on all of our toxic “shoulds,” and uncover and find comfort in what is often called our Buddha Nature, or, the truth of who we really are. 

It includes a brief meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, a special heads up!:

Spots have been filling quickly for the MAY 2-6 RETREAT Keep Calmly Knowing Change,” – just three weeks from now! at the beautiful, peaceful Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, WV, our newest residential retreat venue.

I’m so excited to be back there! Please see some testimonials about this wonderful center, below! I hope you can join us. 

With joy and kind wishes, and my hopes to see you soon! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

It Takes A Long Time To Grow Young: Nurturing Contentment

🙏🏽 A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine and I were talking, and after many hours of sharing a seemingly-never-ending lists of all the things we want and don’t want, all of our fears and regrets, we recognized that what we’re truly longing for is a sense of acceptance or ease with what actually IS … right now, in the present. 

In other words, a sense of contentment (or passaddhi, in the Pali language).

After we’d named this, my friend shared a quote she’d recently learned about from the artist Pablo Picasso, who apparently said, “It takes a long time to grow young.” 

This not only rang true to me, but immediately reminded me of a story about the Buddha’s enlightenment, which as the story goes happened very soon after he’d remembered what contentment had felt like to him, as a young child. 

In fact, this very memory is what suddenly made all the difference, and led him not only to enlightenment, but to the profound teachings of The Middle Way itself – the whole thing.

So, for this month’s talk, “It Takes A Long Time to Grow Young: Nurturing Contentment,” I thought I would explore how the Buddha was led to this understanding, along with some of his teachings on how we can train ourselves to experience even more of this precious quality in our lives. It includes a 10-minute meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few heads up! 

1) In just 2 months from nowI’ll be offering a new 5-day retreat “Keep Calmly Knowing Change,” at the beautiful, peaceful Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, WV, our newest retreat venue – which was very well-received in October, and has been filling! The center is excited to have us back, and has hired a host of new kitchen and facilities staff to help grow and care for this wonderful center. We are so joyful to be a part of this!

2) I’ve finally honored my longtime promise to record the “Either Way, I Am & Really Will Be Okay” meditation – a 30-minute retreat favorite, designed to help us get in touch with the quality of equanimity (or upekkha, in the Pali language) which is considered the “fruit” of our practice. I hope it will serve!  

With joy and kind wishes, and my hopes to see you soon! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

How To Work With Fear & Grief: Pause

🙏🏽 We might wonder sometimes why the Buddhist teachings are continually calling our attention to the truth of what is called annica, or impermanence, since this seems like such an obvious truth – that everything in this world, including ourselves, is in a constant flow of change.

The problem is: impermanence is actually exactly what we tend to struggle with, in the form of both the fear of uncertainty, and the grief that comes with change. 

And because these two feelings – fear & grief – are so uncomfortable for us, our natural tendency is to want to somehow avoid them, or push them away – at all costs – which usually involves a sense of speeding up.

What the teachings are asking us to do instead is to learn how to momentarily rest, or pause, and courageously allow ourselves to BE with these feelings, so that ultimately, we can transform them, and discover more peace and ease in our lives. 

This month’s talk, “How To Work With Fear & Grief: Pause,” explores how we can use our meditation practice to train ourselves in the sacred, healing art of the pause. 

It includes a meditation at the end

As always, I hope it might serve.

Also, just few heads up! 

1) The next daylong retreat in The Plains, VA on Sat., Mar. 9, “Planting the Seeds of Joy,” has been filling quickly since it opened, and is now more than half-full. 

2) In just 3 monthsI’ll be offering a new 5-day retreat “Keep Calmly Knowing Change,” at the beautiful, peaceful Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, WV, our newest retreat venue – which was very well-received in October! The center is excited to have us back, and is planning on many expansions and changes to make it even better, which is wonderful news! 🙂 

With joy and kind wishes, and my hopes to see you soon! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

“It’s All Yours” – Responding to Disrespect & Anger

Traditionally, the holiday season is a time when we’re asked to remember and honor our intention to nurture a sense of peace within ourselves, our families, and our world. 

Yet as we all know, sometimes being with others can trigger the very opposite of this quality – especially when we feel in some way hurt, disrespected, or insulted.

According to the Buddha’s teachings, though,this is exactly the time when our practice can really help us hone our intention, especially as it involves our response – even if this is only in our own minds and hearts.

This is so important: because if our answer is even more aversion, unkindness, or maybe retaliation, we only need to look to history to know where this will lead – which is to more pain, harm, and division.

And of course, this is true whether we’re talking about political party vs. political party, nation vs. nation, citizen vs corporation, or individual vs. individual …

It all comes down to how we work with protecting our own hearts from hurt, aversion, and hatred – which in turn is going to protect others as well.

So, for this month’s talk, “It’s All Yours – Responding to Insult and Disrespect,” I thought I’d dive into the Buddha’s wise trainings in morality – or sila, in the Pali language – because they include precise instructions for exactly this.

As the teachings show us – over and over – even though it can be incredibly difficult, we never ever want to let another person’s disrespect, anger, or meanness harden our own hearts.

Instead, we want our practice to serve as a kind of guard for our hearts – a strong shield that can protect us against the power that other people’s unkind behavior can often have over us. 

It includes a meditation/inquiry at the end

As always, I hope it might serve.

Also, just few heads up! 

1) There’s only one week left to join us for the upcoming 8-week course on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness  JAN. 7 – FEB. 5, 2024 in Winchester, VA. This is my very favorite workshop! And it will be the last one I’ll be offering in 2024 – I really hope you might join us!

2) The next daylong retreat on Sat., Jan. 27, “Living From Your Deepest Intention is now more than half-full! Save your spot! 

With joy, and kind wishes for a blessed 2024! 

~ Shell 🙏🏽💕😊

The Gift of Giving: What Is Your True Intention?

During this seasonal time of giving, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Buddhist practice of dana, which means “generosity” or “letting go.”

As a practice, dana is not only something we’re asked to do consciously, on a regular basis, it’s also considered one of the main “qualities of heart” – or paramis  – that the Buddha urged us to cultivate as a way to discover more joy, freedom, and ease in our lives.

What this means is that: it’s not necessarily what we give that’s important, but our intention for the giving itself – because our awareness of this is exactly what can help nurture and expand this quality in our own hearts.

One of my favorite stories about this comes from an offering of dana I received many years ago from a student at the end of a residential retreat he attended with me.

During our retreat, he’d discovered this gift inside a huge old tree. Apparently, finding it had meant so much to him and had seemed so precious, that it was truly a difficult practice – to let it go and give it to me, instead of keeping it for himself.

Yet, he felt strongly that he should do this, and that I would understand.

This particular offering, which he left anonymously, happened to be a four-foot long snake skin, which I found coiled up in the bottom of the dana basket – or, the place where students traditionally leave teachers monetary or other gifts after attending a retreat.

Just recently, at the end of another residential retreat, this same student approached me rather sheepishly, confessed that he’d done this, and told me he’d wondered for a long time if I’d somehow been offended.

What he didn’t know was – I was so happy to finally know who had left it, and to let him know that I had absolutely loved his gift!

So much so that I had kept it on the shelves above my desk for years, to remind me how this practice has the power to radically transform us if we allow it ourselves to truly let go, just as the snake lets go of its old skin over and over, and becomes new again.

So, paradoxically, his unusual gift of dana was actually an excellent metaphor for the act of dana itself!

His confession was also truly a gift to me, because it enabled me to relieve him of his doubt, and to let him know that yes, I did understand, and that I greatly appreciated his intention.

As an interesting side note, at a daylong retreat a few months later, I felt inspired to bring this student’s gift back to him, and we both felt incredibly joyful about this.

At the end of that retreat, I saw him standing in a line of students waiting to say goodbye to me, and he seemed to be holding something. When it was finally his turn, he approached me slowly, smiling, and opened his hands to reveal … yet another snake skin! He’d found it hanging on a tree he’d been sitting underneath, during lunch.

Instantly, we both burst out laughing at the serendipity of this new finding … and it felt just perfect.  

In the teachings, the Buddha tells us that whenever we give, we should feel joy three times: before, during, and after.

And if we think about this, when we’re truly offering something from our hearts – even if it’s just a smile, a hug, or a listening ear – there is joy in the anticipation of giving, there is joy in the actual giving, and finally, there is joy in the remembering.

So, along with contemplating our “intention” for giving, we might also consider another great question, which is: what do I want to remember?

Even if our gift is not well-received (as you might imagine a snake skin may not have been!) we can ask ourselves: can I feel joy when remembering my intention?

At the same time, we might also try to remember the good intention of others, even when what they’re offering us might be something we’d rather not receive.

With joy, and kind wishes for Happy Holidays and a wonderful 2024! ~ Shell

EMPTY OF EXPECTATION: Exploring “Beginner’s Mind”

As we head into the holidays and new year, not only are our metaphorical plates likely full right now, our minds might also be filled with various goals for ourselves – for what comes next. 

It’s just a very natural time for us to do this. 

For me, I’ve always felt this pull acutely,since December also happens to be the month of my birth, and my husband’s, along with about a handful of other close friends and relatives who all chose this busy end-of-the-year month to be born.

So especially when I’ve been meditating lately, what I’ve been noticing is how much my mind has been leaning forward into the future.

And while the Buddha assured us that it’s healthy to be aware of all our different intentions, he also suggested that once we’ve planted the seeds of our plans, our practice becomes surrendering to any determined outcome – to truly let go, of all of it.

Not easy! Which is why this teaching lies at the very heart of our practice, because ultimately, it’s exactly what we’re training ourselves to do – to let. go. 

This month’s talk, EMPTY OF EXPECTATION: Exploring “Beginner’s Mind”, is aimed at helping us to let go more and more often by inviting us to see all things as new – including all situations, people, and especially ourselves – rather than clinging so tightly to our preconceived beliefs and expectations, which tend to keep us stuck.   

It includes a meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few heads up!

1) I’ve recently made the decision to give myself a little more time next year, for rest, and will only be offering one in-person workshop next year … an 8-week course on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Jan. 7 – Feb. 5, 2024 in Winchester, VA. Spots are limited! 

2) The Dec. 9 daylong retreat in Berryville, VA, FULL SURRENDER: Learning to Ride the Waves” is now FULL with a short waiting list.

3) The next daylong retreat on Sat., Jan. 27, “Living From Your Deepest Intention is open for registration! Save your spot! 

With joy, and kind wishes for Happy Holidays and 2024! 

~ Shell

Content in the Center: Exploring the Buddha’s Middle Way

During a 5-day meditation retreat I led in West Virginia earlier last month, I had an interesting insight:

After speaking with many different students, what occurred to me is that no matter what each of us is currently struggling with, we all seem to be seeking a sense of balance in the midst of all the chaos – whether this is our own personal chaos, or the chaos that’s happening all around us.

I also noticed a related struggle, which involves our ongoing effort to strike a good balance between being there for others, while at the same time being there for ourselves.

And, in almost all cases, what’s actually the most helpful for us is to find and nurture a place of rest, right in the center of all of it – good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant.

So, since that retreat ended, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the Buddha called The Middle Way, which is actually how he described the entirety of his teachings.

In fact, the Middle Way was not only what he discovered when he became enlightened, but it was also the way that he got there, to enlightenment itself.

And the idea is that: the more we practice the Buddha’s Middle Way, the more realize that contentment resides at the very center of our wanting and not wanting, and, at the center of our indulgence or deprivation. 

This month’s talk, Content in the Center: Exploring the Buddha’s Middle Way, addresses how we can use our meditation practice to “walk in the middle” more often, and discover more joy, ease, and balance in our lives. 

It includes a meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few heads up:

1) After many years, I’ve finally and happily given in to requests for a WEEKLONG RETREAT, and will be offering one next year Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2024 at the wonderful Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, WV: 5 WAYS TO LET GO: Releasing the 5 Hindrances. Registration is now open!

2) The next daylong retreat in Berryville, VA, on Dec. 9, FULL SURRENDER: Learning to Ride the Wavesis now more than 2/3 full!

3) I’ll only be offering two in-person workshops next year … starting with an 8-week course on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Jan. 7 – Feb. 5, 2024 in Winchester, VA. Spots are limited!

In the meantime, I hope you might join me soon!

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

Excruciating, and Wonderful – A Meditation Student’s Description

A few weeks ago, as people were arriving for a 9-week meditation workshop I’m leading, a handful of students started telling their classmates that they were both nervous and excited about joining me at an upcoming 5-day meditation retreat I was getting ready to offer in Romney, WV.

More specifically, those who were new to retreat were asking those who had done it before what they might expect.

Suddenly, the whole room became silent, and one student answered, “It’s excruciating,” – which prompted an explosion of laughter, and I’m guessing even more nervousness!

When the laughter had died down, this same student added, “And … it’s wonderful.”

And I thought: just perfect; exactly – it can really be both.

But here’s the thing: the hard part isn’t usually about any arduous logistical difficulties – we’re almost always retreating in a beautiful, quiet setting in nature, and offered comfortable beds, hot meals, and warm showers. Plus, we’re given the opportunity to spend ample time with ourselves in the silence, and asked to set down all the distractions that come with our lengthy “to-do” lists, relationships, and even our phones.

And yet, this is often exactly why it can sometimes feel difficult, or even “excruciating.”

Because at some point during retreat, it suddenly dawns on us that we can’t escape ourselves. In the silence, we find ourselves faced very intimately with our own thoughts, judgments, and opinions – along with all those pesky emotions that we may have been avoiding, too.

And this is also just perfect – because being willing to sit, or “stay” with these difficult thoughts, judgments, and feelings is essentially what our meditation practice is urging us to do.

The beauty of this is that, when we can train ourselves to not look away, and to bravely confront and investigate all those things that we’ve been avoiding, or distracting ourselves from – this is the time when retreat can suddenly become “wonderful.”

In fact, more than wonderful:

After each retreat ends, almost every student I speak with seems to be glowing with emotion and gratitude as they recall what they’ve discovered about themselves in the silence, and along with “wonderful,” tend to offer words like “life-changing,” “transformative,” and simply, “I have no words.”

Regularly, people tell me that their hearts have opened “like a dam breaking,” and that they feel like something fundamental has forever shifted in them – all due to their own willingness to stay with themselves, and their hearts, when at times it felt difficult.

So, if you’ve never been on a meditation retreat before, please know that it’s truly a mix: there can absolutely be times of intense peace, gratitude, and joy … alongside times of grief, frustration, and sadness … and, in the end, a sense of incredible release, relief, and growth.

I hope you might join me! 🙏🏽💕

The Sacred Healing of Noble Silence

Anyone who has probed the inner life, who has sat in silence long enough to experience the stillness of the mind behind its apparent noise, is faced with a mystery. Apart from all the outer attractions of life in the world, there exists at the center of human consciousness something quite satisfying and beautiful in itself, a beauty without features. The mystery is not so much that these two dimensions exist – an outer world and the mystery of the inner world – but that we are suspended between them, as a space win which both worlds meet … as if the human being is the meeting point, the threshold between two worlds.” ~ Kabir Helminski

I so love the above quote, which reflects a vital practice and qualitythe Buddha called Noble Silence – something precious and multi-faceted, like a jewel, and not simply about being quiet. 

For those who are new to practice, trying to enter this more sustained silence can often feel frustrating, or maybe even impossible.

On the other hand, those of us who have experienced the incredibly calming, healing, and transformative aspects of being in the silence for longer periods can very often need a strong reminder to step back into it.

It’s like … even though we’re aware of the great benefits of being in and nurturing the silence, we tend to get so caught up in the swirl of our busy lives that we either neglect it, or, sadly, sometimes forget about it completely.

For this month’s talk, “The Sacred Healing Power of Noble Silence,” I thought I’d explore not only how we can experience the Noble Silence more often, but how we can slowly learn to live our lives from within this peaceful space of silence.  

It includes a meditation at the end. As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few heads up:

1) The next daylong retreat in Berryville, VA, FULL SURRENDER: Learning to Ride the Wavesis now almost half full. I hope you can join us!

2) The date for the 5-day spring retreat at one of our new retreat centers, Peterkin, has been changed to May 2-6, 2024: KEEP CALMLY KNOWING CHANGE: Embodying the 3 Truths. I’m really looking forward to plunging into this retreat topic, one of my favorites.

3) I’ll be offering another 8-week, in-person workshop, THIS IS IT: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, in Winchester, VA Jan. 7 – Feb. 25, 2024. Spots are limited! (P.S. Because this is truly a summary course of our whole practice, it really is designed for all!)

In the meantime, I hope you might join me soon!

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

What Am I ‘Really’ Offering Myself and Others? An Exploration of Dana

☀️ A few weeks ago at a party, I found myself very mindlessly opening my mouth and interrupting someone who was right in the middle of speaking. 

Thankfully, I was able to apologize, but my behavior felt so surprisingly unkind, ungenerous, and painful that it inspired me to dive even deeper into the profoundly important practice of dana, or generosity – which along with metta (or loving-kindness) is considered the very foundation of our practice.

The reason for this is that: our whole practice of dana essentially comes down to our practice of letting go, or non-clinging.  

And, our deepening wisdom of this non-clinging eventually brings us around full circle to our letting go of a sense of a solid, unchangeable, separate self, which as the teachings show us is the main cause or root of almost all of our suffering – when we are clinging so tightly to this sense of me, or mine, and believing that we are somehow separate. 

This month’s new talk, What Am I Really Offering Myself and Others? explores how we can use our mindfulness practice to become more kind and generous not only to others, but also to ourselves, by honestly revealing and investigating all the ways in which we might not be being as kind, or as generous as we may think. 

It includes a 10-minute meditation at the end. 

As always, I hope that it will serve. 

Also, just few quick important notes

1I won’t be offering the intensive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) workshop again until 2025, and there are still just a few spots open in the upcoming series, offered Sept. 10 – Nov. 12 on Sunday afternoons in Winchester, VA. 

2) The new 5-day retreat on Oct. 5-9,LOVING YOURSELF: Nurturing the Heart Practices is now almost full! … I’m really excited about our new beautiful, secluded retreat center (Peterkin) in Romney, WV, and hope that you might join us for this.

3) I have a new weekly blog! I’ve been encouraged to start one of these (long overdue), and so have made a commitment to do so as a practice. Along with copies of the newsletter, it will include weekly dharma insights and meditation tips. I hope that it will serve! 

In the meantime, I hope you might join me soon!

With joy and kind wishes, ~ Shell

METTA: A Reminder to Be Kind

About 14 years ago now, when I first moved back to Virginia from New York City, one of the first things I needed to do was to go out and buy a car – something I hadn’t needed in the city.

And to my great surprise and delight, I was able to choose the ancient Pali word “Metta” as my license plate.

I was thrilled, actually, because I knew that attaching that word directly to my car would essentially serve as a daily reminder for me, to practice what it preaches.

The most basic definition of this incredibly complex and important word, metta – a verb – involves the practice of offering our loving-kindness (or goodwill) out to others, to all the situations we find ourselves in, and especially, to ourselves.  

And again, it’s a practice – because as we all know, this isn’t at all easy.

In fact, particularly for those of us who grew up in the West, studies have shown that we seem to do the exact opposite – which is to give ourselves an unnecessarily hard time.

Sadly, unfortunately, we tend to do this especially during those times when our own kindness and compassion is what’s most needed.

For me, I often like to recall a great example of this kind of Western mindset, which showed up very vividly during one of the first international Buddhist teacher meetings about 30 years ago, where the Dalai Lama was the main speaker.

During a q&a session with this great Tibetan spiritual leader, a group of western teachers asked him how they might help their students work with feelings of un-kindness towards themselves, which manifested in various forms of unworthiness, self-criticism, shame, and self-hatred.

But apparently, the Dalai Lama was totally confused about this; he just couldn’t comprehend words like self-hatred. He was so baffled, in fact, he spent a full 10 minutes conferring with his translator, trying to understand.

Eventually, he asked this large group of teachers if any of them had experienced these same feelings themselves, personally, and was shocked when each one of them nodded.

“But that’s a mistake,” he told them. “Every being is precious!”

That story never fails to remind me: I am not alone in suffering sometimes from my own lack of self-kindness; it’s just the water that we’re swimming in, if you will.

It also reminds me that, again, metta is a practice, not a perfection.

And because of this, it can be really beneficial for us to have some sort of daily or ongoing reminder, one that can help us to actually offer it out – not only to others, but especially to ourselves.

🙏🏽 (If you’re interested, on Sept. 16, I’ll be offering a daylong meditation retreat on the practice of metta in The Plains, VA. I hope you might join me!) 💕